Branding is like using a Jedi mind trick to influence people’s perspectives on a large scale. But unlike the classic “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” branding is a process. Creating a specific idea or identity requires a lot of work.
Liz Boyd, Marketing Specialist with the Madison Public Library and SMB board member spoke on creating a brand that resonates by using values at the Social Media Breakfast Madison March event. Catch the event replay in the SMBMad Facebook archive.
“The real trick of branding lives in the shared imagination of your audience,” explained Liz.
Tangible things like logos and fonts make a brand, but intangible concepts behind a brand help people identify a company or product. If you think of the Memorial Union Terrace, you don’t think about their logo, you think about the experiences you had there. Intangible thoughts – vision, values, voice, and personality are the heart of what branding is.
A brief history
We often think of branding as a newer concept but the basic tenets have been around for over 100 years. It began back in the 1500’s and started with literal branding. Farmers created unique symbols and began to brand their cattle so they could easily identify their cows. The first trademarked logo was designed in 1876 for Bass Brewery. Coca Cola came out in 1886 and Ford’s first logo appeared in 1903.
Radio transformed marketing in the 1920s when commercials were incorporated into their programming. Brands could create jingles to target their messages more clearly and started to be more intentional, which changed how we think of branding. By sponsoring radio programs, a business could unconsciously associate the values the program championed with their services or products.
Brand Identity is the look and feel of the brand. It is what makes you instantly recognizable – logo, colors, even photography. These elements give your company consistency. Use authentic photos of real people using your goods or services.
An example of an intentional brand identity is We Read. The program is something the library worked on with parents and kids to celebrate summer reading. The We Read brand is intentionally diverse and committed to being fully bilingual in English and Spanish.
Brand purpose, mission and values
Feelings and emotions come from your purpose and mission. Values used to be something you would just point to on a website. Now consumers demand more. Are you able to deliver on your brand promises consistently and in meaningful ways?
The library works with an organization called Dear Diary, a mentoring program for Madison-area teens of color. The program has very specific levels of detail about how they will work to achieve the community they envision.
Assessing how your values will age is also important. Will your themes age well? Brand values are not meant to be changed every year or even every five years. They are meant to be an anchor for the messaging you do. The best brand values carry consistent messages over decades or even centuries.
“Platforms may come and go and the modes of delivery may change but what roots you or your company shouldn’t be a passing fad,” Liz said.
Consistency is one of the most important things about creating a brand. If one of your values is giving back to the community you can’t donate to one organization at the end of the year and call it good. To be consistent with that value you have to institutionalize your values throughout the company. You could give paid time off for employees to volunteer or give a percentage of profits monthly.
Aligning personal and professional brand values
On a personal level, if your values don’t align with your employer you could be amazing at your job but miserable. We feel happiest when our actions line up with our values. If you value family but are working 70 hours every week your job is not sustainable. Your personal values help you identify how you want to operate at work and in your personal life.
Messaging & differentiation
We look at brands the same way we look at people – we don’t want or expect every company to sound the same. If someone has cornered the market on funny memes, don’t try to compete. Think about being more informative. Coming up with ways to be unique within your industry is important.
Ultimately, Brand Experience is a combination of all of these different elements. And there are external factors you may not have any control over. In smaller businesses and nonprofits it can feel like there is no time to create a marketing strategy but it is essential for growth. Think about strategic partnerships that can enhance your brand. Pairing up can help you reach new audiences and amplify both of your voices.
One example of a successful partnership is the Stratos high altitude skydiving project. Red Bull teamed up with GoPro to capture a record breaking skydive attempt from 24 miles above the Earth. Both companies have extreme lifestyle values that match up well for marketing. The campaign was so successful that they created an exclusive global partnership. Most of us don’t have $30 million dollars to spend on an advertising campaign, but these types of partnerships can be done on a much smaller scale.
Brands aren’t created in a silo. You need to talk to internal stakeholders to get a full view of your brand. Managers are important but so are the people who interact with the public every day. Every person within an organization should have a clear idea of what your brand is and be able to talk about how your company lives by its values.
The Madison Area Sports Commission (MASC), an arm of Destination Madison, brings sporting events to Madison. It has partnered with some of the most successful events in the nation — USA Cycling National Championships, IRONMAN Wisconsin, the CrossFit Games and WIAA High School State Championships — just to name a few. The MASC also runs a youth grant program that has awarded over $400,000 to Dane County youth sports organizations. The grant puts into practice MASC’s belief that sport participation has lifelong mental and physical health benefits and that every kid deserves an opportunity to play sports. Find MASC on Facebook at madisonwisports and Instagram at @MadisonWISports.
Thanks to SMBMad volunteer Kristin Moala for writing this month’s event recap.